“A gang of secessionist rebels go to war with their paternal superpower” is the narrative backbone within two of this fall’s biggest video games: Titanfall 2 and Call of Duty: Infinite Warfare. It’s also a rather on-the-nose metaphor for a long and troubled relationship between both games’ creators.
The Call of Duty franchise was launched in 2003 by the video game developer Infinity Ward, rapidly growing in popularity and scope. The massive success of 2009’s Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2 was followed by rumors of internal corporate drama, particularly pertaining to undelivered bonuses. Eventually Infinity Ward co-founders Jason West and Vince Zampella were fired by the game’s publisher, Activision.
The two leads, along with a number of other Infinity Ward team members, subsequently founded Respawn to create Titanfall in partnership with Activision’s publishing rival, Electronic Arts. Alongside the new studio, 38 Infinity Ward employees filed a lawsuit against Activision, one of a series of suits between the publisher and its former employees.
And so, 2016 feels like the culmination of rebuilding for both Respawn and Infinity Ward. Titanfall 2 is the first game in the franchise to have a single-player campaign, while Call of Duty: Infinite Warfare is the first competent Call of Duty from Infinity Ward since the staff exodus. (Infinity Ward released Call of Duty: Ghosts in 2013, an aborted series best known for a dog animation.) It appears, in many ways, the proverbial beef has been squashed over the past that time. The last of the lawsuits was settled in 2015, and a high-profile designer returned to Infinity Ward the same year. When the official Titanfall Twitter, which appears to be run by publisher EA, took a jab at Infinity Ward’s new game, the official Respawn account came to Infinity Ward’s defense.
For the record: @respawn is the official voice of Respawn studio. We have nothing but respect & love for our fellow devs.— Respawn (@Respawn) November 4, 2016
What’s surprising is how, as stories, Titanfall 2 and Infinite Warfare are two sides of the same coin. Both games are about wall-running, jetpack-boosting super soldiers in the distant future. Both games warn of the conflicts that will come with overpopulation and colonization of distant worlds.
But Titanfall 2 tells the story from the perspective of the resistance. After a big battle, they’re now on the offensive, still relatively ragtag, but a legitimate adversary to the (and I’m not making this up) the Interstellar Manufacturing Corporation — a colossal force that fabricates generic worlds with the galaxy’s rich resources.
Call of Duty Infinite Warfare tells the story from the perspective of the superpower. As a member of the United Nations Space Alliance, a benevolent force that leads Earth’s efforts of space colonization, you fight against militant radicals who seek to claim the UNSA’s discoveries and resources for their own.
Respawn, Infinity Ward, and Activision may be on good terms, but after years of battling, they subconsciously made two video games from two perspectives about their own war. Respawn: the empowered rebels fighting against the malevolent corporation fabricating personality-less worlds. Activision and Infinity Ward: the unified and benevolent superpower, maintaining order in the face of secession.